1915 Simplex Crane Model 5 Sport Berline
Coachwork by Brewster
Chassis no. 2168
Producer of one of the finest and most exclusive luxury cars built in the USA before World War I, the Simplex Automobile Company was founded when wealthy textile importer Herman Broesel purchased the Manhattan-based S & M Simplex company in 1907. The latter had come into being in 1904 when A D Proctor Smith and Carlton R Mabley set up as automobile manufacturers in order to avoid the punitive customs duties levied on the foreign makes they imported. These included some of Europes finest: FIAT, Panhard, Renault and the Daimler-built Mercedes, whose advanced Simplex range inspired a host of imitators, Messrs Proctor Smith and Mabley included. Designed by Edward Franquist, the four-cylinder S & M Simplex was a very expensive car ($6,750 in 1904) and although the price dropped to $5,750 under Broesels ownership, it remained within the reach of only a privileged few.
Broesels first Simplex was another Franquist design: a 50hp T-head four featuring four-speed sliding gear transmission and twin chain drive. These 50hp Simplexes were formidable competition cars an example finished 6th in the first Indianapolis 500 but more often were seen in luxury car guise boasting extravagant coachwork by the likes of Brewster, Demarest, Healey, Holbrook and Quinby. Following Herman Broesel Seniors death in 1912, his sons sold out to a New York-based consortium. The new management identified the need for a six-cylinder model to maintain Simplexs place in the front rank of luxury car manufacturers and took the short cut of purchasing the Crane Motor Car Company that was already building an exclusive and expensive ($8,000 for the chassis alone) six at Bayonne, New Jersey. Simplex also retained the services of Henry M Crane, whose reputation as a car designer was reinforced by his previous work in marine engineering, engines of his design and construction having powered Dixie speedboats that won the coveted Harmsworth International Trophy on four occasions.
The new model which Crane created for Simplex was very similar to the Crane Model 4 that his company had been building, but on a longer (144) wheelbase. Of 4.375x 6.25 bore/stroke, the six-cylinder engine displaced 563cu in and was almost identical to that of the Crane model. Cast in two blocks of three cylinders, with all valves on one side, it was claimed to develop 100-110bhp at 1800-2000rpm. The crankshaft ran in three main bearings of 2.75 diameter and the connecting rods were machined all over. The carburettor was a Newcomb design, modified by Crane, and there was magneto ignition. Drive was via a single-plate clutch and three-speed transmission to a 3.0:1 ratio rear axle. These attributes endowed this massive car with outstanding acceleration as well as a high top speed. Officially titled Simplex Crane Model 5, the new car became the Crane-Simplex in popular parlance. When introduced, the chassis price was $5,000, which was raised to $6,000 a year later and to $7,000 the year after that.
The Simplex Crane offered here was sold new to a wealthy family in Rhode Island, reputably bought off the floor at the New York Auto Show. The Brewster Berline coachwork is special, being close coupled with a fitted trunk and matching luggage built between the dual spare tires and the body. The car has only travelled 22,000 miles since new and has been both preserved and restored. This car has been well taken care of as it still retains it original upholstery of green wool in the rear and short grain leather in the front seat area. The hardware on the entire car is of cast German silver and the instrument panel has a full range of instruments of the highest quality of its day including a removable Waltham clock. This Crane sports such accessories as a 4 cylinder air pump mounted on the side of the engine, a full set of original tools stored in drawers on each side of the front seat (with everything from a waterpump wrench to a rear wheel puller), a simplex jack and gas cap wrench mounted in a saddle next to the drivers left leg. The lamps are custom, one-off lights that look very much like Stephan Grebels but are American made. The cowl lamps are dual purpose and can be used as spotlights. There also is a French Cicca Boa Constrictor horn mounted on the left side.
The car as we know was purchased from Rhode Island in the 1980s and sold to Europe in its original state. It ended up in Turin, Italy, then owned by FIVA vice president Veniero Molari. Mr. Molaris goal was to preserve the car but still make it a usable car for rallies and to be safe for his family on long distance drives. He repainted the exterior in the original Brewster Green Japan lacquer with purple lake trim and the fenders were painted their original black. During the engine rebuild, Molari found that the car had very little wear. The engine now runs and performs as new. With no expense spared, even the exhaust manifolds were recast by an aircraft foundry as 99% of the existing Simplexes have cracked manifolds because of poor castings. The radiator was recored by Vintage radiators in the UK and a new set of wheels and rims have been made exactly as the 27-inch originals. This was done for safety. On its maiden voyage, Mr. Molari drove the car from Turin to Paris and back without missing a beat at Autostrada speeds. These cars are 9.5 liter and the actual brake horsepower is 110. Closed cars of this era are rare as the construction is very expensive and few people could afford them.
Simplex was acquired by the Wright-Martin Aircraft Corporation in 1916 and its New Brunswick factory turned over to Hispano-Suiza aero engine production following the USAs entry into WWI. Automobile production was suspended for the duration of the war but never resumed, although a few cars were constructed from existing parts. By this time fewer than 500 Crane-Simplexes had been built. Rights to the Simplex name were acquired in 1920 by former Packard vice-president Emlen S Hare and shortly thereafter by Henry Crane himself, but no further cars were made. It was a sad end to a marque that, in its day, had ranked within the highest echelons of the worlds luxury automobiles.
The Crane-Simplex truly deserves its reputation as one of the finest American automobiles of the industrys heroic, pioneering age, and this wonderful example should reward a future owner with many enjoyable miles and years of use.